Statistically speaking, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown had a great season, catching 104 passes for 1297 yards and leading the NFL with 15 receiving touchdowns, doing so in 15 games after Head Coach Mike Tomlin chose to bench him for the season finale because he couldn’t get a hold of him.
The latter detail may well be the reason that the nine-year veteran inexplicably was left off the All-Pro team for the first time in over half a decade. And let’s be clear here, he didn’t simply just not make the team; he literally only received two votes from 50 voters.
The two first-team All-Pro wide receivers this season were DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans and Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints. Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs was chosen as the flex position player for the first team.
The second-team wide receivers were Hill and Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, with Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey being recognized for the flex position. So four wide receivers were chosen, making the case that they were more deserving than Brown. Let’s look at the numbers.
Admittedly, Thomas’ catch percentage is nothing short of astonishing. Brown’s yardage is also the clear outlier, with a more than 100-yard deficit from the next-closest. But his yards per catch is on-par with most in this group, and only two of the other receivers even hit double-digit touchdowns.
While the All-Pro list is generally regarded as more objective and less prone to ‘politics’ than the Pro Bowl, name recognition still holds sway. Brown has been an All-Pro every season since 2013, and a first-team All-Pro every season since 2014. The only thing significantly different about this season has been the off-field drama.
Names as notable as Peter King have come out and said that they removed Brown from their All-Pro ballot because of his off-field behavior. I’m certain that this must be the case for many voters. Even Davante Adams received more All-Pro votes than he did. Adam Thielen received the same number. One even voted for JuJu Smith-Schuster over Brown.
I do believe we can establish that Brown did not make the All-Pro list this year because of his behavior, and I point as evidence to this the fact that Hill only received six votes. I’m sure seven out of 50 voters would have voted for Brown had he not gone AWOL.
Now the question is whether or not this is fair, or how the process should work. Even if we make some exception for the reasonability of factoring in off-field behavior when making decisions about on-field honors, was Brown’s conduct so detrimental as to make him undeserving?
The irony is that he actually improved his statistics after he was voted into the Pro Bowl. His numbers look better now than when voters believed he was a Pro Bowl player. But now the voters see more to it than that. Will this be an eye-opener for him about how his conduct can affect his prestige?